Dallas Mavericks: Pops Mensah-bonsu
Johnson chose to rest his players down the stretch and he rarely deployed a lineup that would play together once the No. 1 seed Mavericks opened their first-round series against Don Nelson's feisty, but hardly worrisome, No. 8 seed Golden State Warriors.
Dallas had clinched its first outright division title since 1986-87 and had won 65 games by Game No. 78. With the Chicago Bulls' 72 wins out of reach, Johnson took his foot off an accelerator that had been mashed all season. The Mavs started 0-4, the anticipated hangover after the Finals flop the prior season. But, motivated by it and their driven head coach, the Mavs proved to be the class of the league.
It will never be known for certain what happened in the first-round loss. Was it rust? Was the team burned out from Johnson's hard-charging style? Did Johnson's starting lineup switch to match the Warriors' smaller starters send the wrong signal? Was the Little General, just in his second full season as head coach, outcoached by Nellie the mad scientist? Were the Mavs simply outplayed?
All that is known is the Mavs followed up their epic Finals failure with the franchise's greatest regular season and then a humiliating postseason. It forced the NBA to celebrate the league's MVP after he had been eliminated. Dirk Nowitzki solemnly picked up his award and then vanished into the Australian outback.
Despite the setbacks, it hardly seemed plausible at the time that Johnson's tenure was fragile and that the entire future of the organization would soon change again.
Coach: Avery Johnson
Record: 67-15 (1st, Southwest Division)
Playoffs: Lost to Golden State (4-2)
Team payroll: $88.1 million*
Highest-paid player: Michael Finley ($16.1**); Dirk Nowitzki ($15.1)*
In-season transaction: Feb. 22, 2007: Traded Anthony Johnson to Atlanta for a 2007 second-round draft pick (Nick Fazekas); April 2, 2007: Signed F Kevin Willis.
The high: The season was all about the regular season. The 67 wins was a franchise best and earned the Mavs the West's No. 1 seed. Their .817 winning percentage was the sixth-best in NBA history, and they were the sixth-fastest team in league history to reach the 50-win mark (59 games), and that was after an 0-4 start. The season included win streaks of 12, 13, eight, 17 and nine games. Dirk Nowitzki completed his best all-around season. He averaged 24.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and a career-high 3.4 assists. He set career-bests in field goal percentage (50.2), 3-point percentage (41.6) and free throw percentage (90.4). Nowitzki was rewarded by becoming the first player in franchise history to earn the league's MVP award. He was also a first team All-NBA selection. Nowitzki joined Josh Howard, an injury replacement, on the West All-Star team, marking the first time two Mavs were named to the team since Nowitzki and Steve Nash in 2003.
The low: This is all about the postseason. It was strange from the start when former Mavs coach Don Nelson brought his undersized Warriors to the American Airlines Center for Game 1. Mavs coach Avery Johnson decided to match small-for-small and deferred from his usual starting lineup by sitting center Erick Dampier. Golden State stole Game 1, a precursor of things to come as Dallas lost all three games in Oakland and became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 8 seed since the first-round expanded to best-of-7 in 2003. In the 111-86 Game 6 debacle that clinched the series for the Warriors, Dirk Nowitzki was frustrated by constant trapping defense and went 2-of-13 from the field. It set up a most uncomfortable MVP ceremony back in Dallas, one in which Nowitzki had a terrible time finding solace among Mavs owner Mark Cuban and NBA commissioner David Stern. Later, as part of a lawsuit between Cuban and Nelson, Cuban would contend that his former head coach used insider information to beat the Mavs.
F Dirk Nowitzki (24.6 ppg, 8.9 rpg)
F/G Josh Howard (18.9 ppg, 6.8rpg)
G Jason Terry (16.7 ppg, 43.8% 3FG)
G/F Jerry Stackhouse (12.0 ppg, 38.3% 3FG)
G Devin Harris (10.2 ppg, 3.7 apg, 26.0 mpg)
F Erick Dampier (7.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg)
G/F Devean George (6.4 ppg, 21.4 mpg)
G Greg Buckner (4.0 ppg, 18.1 mpg)
G Anthony Johnson (3.8 ppg in 40 games with Dallas)
F Austin Croshere (3.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 11.9 mpg)
F Pops Mensah-Bonsu (2.4 ppg in 23 games)
F Kevin Willis (2.4 ppg in five games)
G J.J. Barea (2.4 ppg in 33 games)
C DeSagana Diop (2.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 18.3 mpg)
C DJ Mbenga (0.8 ppg in 21 games)
G Maurice Ager (2.2 ppg in 32 games)
**The Mavericks waived Michael Finley on Aug. 15, 2005, taking advantage of a one-time amnesty provision that allowed them to avoid luxury taxes on the $51.8 million owed him over the next three years. Finley became an unrestricted free agent and joined the San Antonio Spurs, although the Mavs remained on the hook to pay his full salary.
Mavericks alumnus Jerry Stackhouse is arguably the most prominent free agent in the league still looking for a job.
But that's largely because the 34-year-old, twice an All-Star, is determined to wait for a firm offer from a certain playoff team.
Sources close to the situation say that Stackhouse was promptly called by the Houston Rockets earlier this month when the Rockets -- after inviting Rashad McCants to Rockets camp on a non-guaranteed contract -- decided they could not go through with their intended signing of McCants because the swingman was sidelined by an abdominal injury just before camp opened.
The Rockets, though, wanted Stackhouse to come to camp to compete with three other players leading contender and former Mavs teammate Pops Mensah-Bonsu along with summer-league guards Will Conroy and Garrett Temple -- for their final roster spot. The combination of that stipulation and Houston's expected slide into the lottery, with Yao Ming expected to miss the entire season and Tracy McGrady facing an uncertain return from knee surgery, prompted Stackhouse to pass.
Atlanta, Denver and Miami are said to be three situations that greatly intrigue Stackhouse after he worked out some with the Hawks late in the offseason and with both the Nuggets and Heat known to have a need at his position. Yet all three of those teams would like to carry 13 players this season instead of the maximum 15 because of luxury-tax concerns and/or want players with non-guaranteed contracts at the end of their rosters to maintain maximum flexibility.
Stackhouse, McCants and Wally Szczerbiak would appear to be the three most accomplished NBA swingmen who remain unsigned. Chances are, though, that Stackhouse is bound to get a call he wants to take before long, once injuries start piling up or when teams' holes become more glaring than they are in mid-October, when coaches and executives are generally fond of their squads.
Stackhouse auditioned for New York over the summer and insists that he has fully recovered from the plantar fasciitis that conspired to limit him to just 10 games with Dallas last season, which was followed by Stackhouse's inclusion in the four-team deal in July that brought Shawn Marion to the Mavs. The Memphis Grizzlies wound up with Stackhouse when they were recruited to help facilitate the Marion trade and paid $2 million to buy out his $7 million expiring contract for this season.
"I'm just happy to be healthy and able to compete again," Stackhouse said in August. "That's the most important thing. I'm just happy to get back to play. . . I think teams know what I bring to the table when I'm healthy."
103.3 FM ESPN PODCASTS
Play Podcast Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett at Mavericks media day to discuss his expectations for the upcoming season.
Play Podcast Mark Cuban joins Galloway and Company to discuss the Mavericks' new GM Gersson Rosas and much more.
Play Podcast Fitzsimmons and Durrett discuss Mark Cuban's comments from Las Vegas about the Mavericks' offseason, how he sees the team without Dwight Howard and more.
Play Podcast Marc Stein joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why the Mavericks didn't want to match Cleveland's offer to Andrew Bynum, what's next for the Mavs and the possibility of Dirk Nowitzki ending his career elsewhere.
Play Podcast Jeff Platt fires quick-hitters at Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon in the weekly sports standoff about Andrew Bynum, the Mavs' current backcourt, a potential Nelson Cruz suspension and more.
Play Podcast ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why she thinks Andrew Bynum got a bad rap in Los Angeles and how he would fit in with the Mavericks.
Play Podcast Buy, sell or hold? If Dwight Howard goes to another team, what are the Mavs' options? The guys take a look at a list of potential fallback options.
Play Podcast ESPN's Marc Stein joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the latest news on the Mavericks' meeting with Dwight Howard.